Our Constitutional Right to Protest Is Under Assault
By Lauren Reid
A new proposed rule from the National Park Service is aiming to restrict peaceful protest in parks and even sidewalks within the District of Columbia—just one effort on a long list of anti-protest laws popping up all around the country.
Our right to free speech and peaceful protest is so fundamental to our democracy that it's one of the first points the authors of the Constitution felt must be guaranteed—centuries of state-sponsored oppression and persecution was bad enough to deem free speech a top priority for the new republic. Without this protection, think of the dozens of modern critical moments shaping our country that might not have happened otherwise—from the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which bolstered the anti-war sentiment for many families, or the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr gave his iconic "I have a dream speech."
In moments like these, protests gave ordinary people like me and you a space and place to speak in the public interest, allowing us to practice of our First Amendment rights and hit an emotional cord, shaping the national discourse.
But now this freedom to express ourselves is under serious threat, thanks to Trump's Interior Department. Under a new proposal introduced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the National Park Service is looking to dramatically limit the right to demonstrate near the White House and the National Mall, block 80% of the White House sidewalks, impose strict limits on spontaneous demonstrations, and even charge people for protesting.
Above: Cedar George-Parker, 20, a youth activist from the Tulalip Indian Band and Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Coast Salish Territory seen here at the White House after marching through the streets of DC for Native Nations Rise. The Kinder Morgan pipeline – approved last year by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau despite widespread opposition from the impacted Indigenous communities – was meant to go directly through Cedar's home territory.
If enacted, this proposal would erode Constitutional freedoms and protections that could render us gagged and unable to speak out. I suspect that like the fable of the frog in boiling water, this Administration is slowly turning up the heat while destroying our rights in the hopes we don't notice until they're effectively gone. While it's infuriating that we have to protest to protect our right to protest, if we have learned nothing from this Administration's endless attacks on our freedoms it's that they have no intention of stopping—therefore we can't either.
This is merely the latest in a string of efforts aimed at silencing dissent, from the oil and gas industry attempting to influence protest laws, to state legislatures enhancing criminal penalties against demonstrators. Following the resistance at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, strategic lawsuits against public participation (otherwise known as SLAPP suits) were filed by multinational corporations against environmental and civil rights advocates active at the protest, and anti-protest laws have been proposed and enacted in legislatures across the country.
A series of over 60 bills have been introduced since the end of 2016 seeking to restrict the right to protest and enhancing existing criminal penalties—like a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate that could make pipeline protests a 2nd-degree felony—that's the same level of offense for sexual assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Another anti-protest law that went into effect in Louisiana this August has already been used to arrest more than a dozen protesters opposing Energy Transfer's Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana.
And let's be clear here—restricting the right to protest will always disproportionately impact underserved and marginalized communities, those who do not see themselves represented, those who are compelled to the forefront of movements in demand justice and a fair and equal society for all. For underserved communities who cannot afford to pay to demonstrate, who cannot afford to now pay to speak, these regulations will further exacerbate the injustice our communities face. If you have to pay for free speech it's not free.
A rally was held in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House as part of "A Day without a Woman" march on Washington. The march and rally were being held on International Women's Day, March 8th, bringing together women and allies together for equity.
Case in point—the criminal charges levied against Ferguson activists and the Water Protectors from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are just a few examples of how restricting speech can have profound and long-lasting impacts on those fighting for a fair and healthy democracy, while also intimidating others from participation. Targeted and sweeping arrests during a protest are one of the easiest ways to chill speech and deter individuals from organizing in their communities—which is perhaps the point this government is trying to make.
Everyone deserves an equal voice in a democracy, whether that's the environmental movement or the Tea Party. Each attempt to erode our constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate is a huge red flag that our democracy is at serious risk—and if we don't fight back now, we'll end up boiled alive before we even realize it's too late.
So ladies and gentlemen, please get out and vote on November 6th. While candidates and democracy itself are never perfect (and never will be), this is a moment to let your voices be heard, and vote those who intend to dismantle our rights out of power for good. The fate of our environment, democracy, and constitutional freedoms depend on it.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.